Dakota County Technical College needed an update.
In aging portions of the Rosemount school, fumes from welders left a sticky residue on computers and classrooms were cramped and inefficient.
“We were making do,” said Erin Edlund, director of institutional advancement. But they don’t have to for much longer.
The college is halfway through a renovation of 118,000 square feet of classrooms, labs and workshops. The school wrapped up the first half the overhaul in 2013 and last month the Legislature approved $7.7 million for phase two of the project.
The funding will help the school update its transportation and emerging technology program areas, which are in high demand, officials said. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2016.
Welding is one of the areas where the school could not keep up with job demand, Edlund said. Welding space was renovated with the first round of funding — $7.2 million — and DCTC is able to graduate nearly three times as many students per year.
The next upgrade will allow the school to double the number of graduates from its heavy duty truck technology program. There is a two-year waiting list for that program, said Mike Opp, academic and student affairs vice president.
The demand for the graduates DCTC is producing was a selling point when school officials brought legislators through the hallways and classrooms, making their pitch for two rounds of bonding funds.
“No one’s going to argue with high-wage, high-skill jobs,” Edlund said.
They told legislators how outdated technology and limited space constrained the school. For example, there was only one stall where students could practice painting cars, Opp said.
“They are all fighting to get in there,” he said.
During the first round of renovations, the school added a second stall — and a new technology for waterborne painting. Students previously did not have a place to learn how to paint a vehicle using water-based paints, which are increasingly popular and contain fewer harmful chemicals than old solvent-based paints.
“The industry was evolving and here we were sitting, saying, ‘What can we do?’ ” Opp said. “That’s the beauty of projects like this. Now we’re on the cutting edge, just like industry.”
School officials visited companies working in the various fields they teach to gather ideas for what the classrooms should entail, Opp said.
Aaron Weinberger, a student in the automotive service educational program, said the college’s workspace seems professional. The car lifts and other equipment he was using are on par with what’s used in the industry, he said.
“It’s exactly what we deal with at the dealership,” Weinberger said.
Mark Hickman, Weinberger’s automotive technology instructor who has worked at DCTC for 27 years, said he is thankful for the upgrades, which include $3.5 million of deferred maintenance work.
Welders previously had to breathe harmful fumes as they were sucked into hoods overhead. Now, the school has tubes that can be pointed at the source of the fumes to suck up the chemicals. And the welding area is no longer next to Hickman’s classroom.
“We can breathe,” he said. “We had some real serious issues with ventilation.”
The metallic fumes from welders would coat computers in a sticky residue, Hickman said, causing them to fail quickly.
Fighting a stigma
Beyond better breathing, Hickman said the first round of renovation has led to new equipment, better lighting and wider doorways that allow classes to share equipment more easily.
“We were behind the times,” he said, and used to cram classes into tiny rooms. “It was wholly inadequate. It was like, OK, who’s sitting on whose lap today?”
The school also plans to spruce up the area, which has hallways that resemble a 1970s high school. Rows of orange and yellow lockers stick out from walls with chipping blue and tan paint above a concrete floor.
The school has to fight a “junior college” stigma, Edlund said. It’s tough to do that when part of the building has not been updated since it was built in 1973.
Students often come from beautiful high schools like Farmington, “and here we are,” she said, with small, outdated classrooms. “It will be really nice to see the quality of the facility match the quality of the students we produce.”